Scroll down for video of Bill Clinton’s comments and Stevie Wonder’s performance.
What do Bill Clinton, Antonio Villaraigosa, Eric Garcetti, Placido Domingo and Stevie Wonder have in common? They were all on the same stage last Friday evening at City Hall for “Celebrate L.A.,” a so-called “block party” — free and open to all — honoring cultural heritage month and Villaraigosa’s final days as L.A. mayor.
Villaraigosa wanted to give the big bash a personal touch. He opened his comments by saying, “I have a speech written, but I’m going to speak from the heart.” He went on to marvel at L.A.’s sheer size and diversity: Angelenos represent 140 countries and 220 languages. He urged us to “turn to the person next to you and ask their country of origin!” Villaraigosa’s zeal did not trickle down to the masses, however. I meekly twisted my head to the right, then to the left, but neither the Asian guy nor the black woman flicked an eyelash in my direction.
Clinton similarly extolled L.A.’s multiculturalism. He recalled meeting Korean Nobel Peace Prize winner Kim Dae-jung on the same City Hall steps back in 1992 – “when only my mother and [supervisor] Gloria Molina thought I could get elected president” – and realizing that L.A. “represented the future to him,” and possibly to the world.
Clinton also commended Villaraigosa’s tenacity and commitment during two mayoral terms, noting, “He always knew being mayor was first and foremost a job.” Garcetti, our next mayor, continued the praise.
Domingo, director of L.A. Opera and one of the world’s finest tenors, opted for song, not speech. He bellowed “Las Golondrinas” (The Swallows) a capella before heading up the street to perform it again that evening in a Zarzuela (Spanish opera) program at The Music Center.
Onlookers in the VIP section included mayoral candidate Jan Perry and other councilmembers — plenty of familiar faces. Familiar faces filled the entire audience, in fact, which spilled across Grand Park’s spacious green lawn. (I sometimes joke that downtown is like Belle’s quaint village in “Beauty and the Beast” where choruses of “Bonjour! Bonjour!” ring out among the townspeople. This was one of those moments.)
But not all the action was on stage. Food trucks cooked seafood tacos, Indian dosas, and hot dogs; vendors hawked fresh veggies; one booth dished out free nachos. On a mini-stage, chefs Neal Fraser, Roy Choi and Jimmy Shaw gave cooking demos, with Evan Kleiman of KCRW’s Good Food as MC. A few steps away, guests dipped their fingers in teal, rose, purple and yellow paints for a paint-by-numbers fingerprint mural.
Back at the main stage, cheers and hoots erupted when Stevie Wonder sat at the keyboard to play “Overjoyed” and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.” Villaraigosa bounded over, grinning like the Cheshire Cat. He rocked back and forth and pummeled the air with a triumphant fist to the line “dreams do come true.” Then he jumped up, whipped out his iPhone, and video-recorded Stevie’s performance, singing along all the while. When he directed his camera on us, the audience, people cheered and waved. It was quite the performance. Genuine zeal? Calculated showmanship? Either way, it didn’t seem to matter.
Video by Daina Beth Solomon.